Employees are now returning to the workplace in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this unprecedented time, it is important for employees to understand their rights and what to do if their rights are violated. One of the most important things all employees should know is how the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can help protect your rights when workplace discrimination or harassment occurs. Below, we discuss how to file a complaint with the EEOC and what to expect during the process.
What Is the EEOC?
The EEOC is a government agency responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy status, transgender status, sexual orientation, national origin, age, or disability. Virtually all employers in the U.S. with 15 or more employees are covered by federal laws that protect against discrimination and harassment in the workplace. These laws also protect employees from other discriminatory practices in firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits.
What’s Considered Workplace Discrimination?
Workplace discrimination occurs when an employee is treated differently or less favorably due to their membership in a protected class, such as race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy status, transgender status, sexual orientation, national origin, age, or disability. Workplace discrimination takes many forms, but most often includes the following behaviors:
- Not hiring a qualified job applicant due to their membership in a protected class
- Not promoting a qualified employee due to their membership in a protected class
- Demoting or firing an employee due to their membership in a protected class
Workplace discrimination is often confused with workplace harassment. While the two share similarities, they also have significant differences. Workplace discrimination occurs when a person is denied job opportunities due to their membership in a protected class, while workplace harassment occurs when a person is targeted for negative treatment (whether that be physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual) due to their membership in a protected class. Employees, however, should keep in mind that discrimination can be expressed through harassment.
What’s Considered Workplace Harassment?
Workplace harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy status, transgender status, sexual orientation, national origin, age, or disability. In order to qualify as harassment, conduct must meet the following criteria:
- Offensive and unwelcomed conduct becomes a condition of continued employment.
- The conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would find intimidating or hostile.
- The conduct is in response to an employee complaining of harassment or filing a complaint with the EEOC or for participating in any litigation involving such matters.
It is important to note that one-off petty slights or jabs generally do not qualify as workplace harassment. The conduct must be pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment in order to be found unlawful.
Workplace harassment doesn’t just come from a person’s supervisors. Workplace harassment can be committed by coworkers, subordinates, or even non-employees. This can occur even in the following situations:
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful harassment may occur without economic injury to the victim.
Workplace harassment takes many forms, including the following:
- Physical: This may involve physical violence or threats of physical violence, including punching, pushing, slapping, etc.
- Verbal: This may involve name-calling, swearing, or otherwise insulting a coworker in public or private settings.
- Emotional: This may involve excluding, intimidating, isolating, or discrediting a coworker.
- Sexual: This may involve unwanted advances including touching, commenting, gesturing, and more.
- Electronic: This may involve inappropriate electronic correspondence such as text messages, emails, memos, and more.
Harassment or discrimination of any kind cannot be tolerated in the workplace. Filing a complaint with the EEOC can help you seek justice and protect your job at the same time.
Filing a Complaint with the EEOC
There are two main ways to file a complaint with the EEOC. You may file your complaint by mail or in person at an EEOC office. In order to increase your complaint’s chances of success, you should try to gather the following information:
- The name, address, and telephone number of the person being treated unfairly
- The name, address, and telephone number of the employer you are filing the complaint against
- A brief description of the alleged unlawful conduct
- The dates this conduct occurred
Any employee in the U.S. who believes their rights have been violated by their employer may file a complaint with the EEOC. You do not have to be a full-time employee to file a complaint; additionally, those applying for a job may file a complaint against the company where they applied for a job.
It is important to note that, like with many legal matters, there is a time limit to file a complaint with the EEOC. In some cases, you only have 180 days from the date that discrimination occurred. This time period may be extended to 300 days if your complaint is also covered by a state or local law.
In order to expedite the process and improve your complaint’s chances of success, it is in your best interest to contact an experienced employment law attorney. At Pearson Butler, our Utah attorneys are passionate about protecting the rights of hard-working employees against large corporations and discriminatory employers. We encourage you to give us a call to see how we can help you seek justice.
Call Pearson Butler at (800) 265-2314 to schedule a consultation.